Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 5:30-40

1QH 5, continued

(Unless otherwise noted, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

In lines 24-30 of the Column V hymn, discussed in the previous note, the author describes the role that the principal spirits of holiness, wisdom, etc, played in the Creation, having themselves been established by God before anything else in the universe had been created (cf. Proverbs 8:22-31). These spirits, reflecting the fundamental attributes of God, thus have knowledge of the deepest plans and “mysteries” of God. This is to be compared with the situation of human beings, who are unable to possess true wisdom or understanding unless God Himself, through His spirits, enables the person. Without this ‘special revelation’, human beings simply cannot obtain to the Divine wisdom. The author expresses this, quite clearly, with his rhetorical question in lines 30-31:

“[But how i]s a spirit of flesh (able) to gain understanding of all these (thing)s, and to have discernment of[…] great […]?”

As in 4:37 and 5:15 (possibly also in line 14), the distinctive expression “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr) is used, in reference to the nature of a human being. It refers to the created/limited character of this nature, but also to the corruption of it, so that a person is, by nature, influenced and dominated by sin and by evil/harmful spirits. Here, the principal point of reference is to the human being as a created being, with the weaknesses and limitations that this implies:

“And what (is one) born of a woman among all your [gre]at (and) fearsome (work)s?” (line 31b)

The expression “born of a woman” is clearly parallel with “spirit of flesh”. Yet, as the following lines indicate, this created nature is also corrupt, having been perverted and dominated by sin:

“Indeed, he (is but) built of dust and kneaded (with) water. G[uilt and s]in (are) his foundation, (the) nakedness of shame and a so[urce of im]purity; and a spirit of crookedness rules over him.” (ll. 31-33)

The existence of a human being is established (lit. founded, vb ds^y`) on guilt (hm*v=a*) and sin (ha*F*j^), implying that a person is trapped in an existence dominated and influenced by sin from birth. The expression “nakedness of shame/disgrace” probably alludes to the tradition in Gen 2:25; 3:7, 10-11. This natural inclination to sin is further described as a “source of impurity”.

Beyond this, the author/protagonist recognizes that there is also a “spirit” that rules (vb lv^m*) over the human being. This is described specifically as “a spirit of crookedness” (hw@u&n~ j^Wr). The noun hw@u&n~ is verbal, being a participle from the root hwu (I), “bend, twist”; thus hw@u&n~ indicates the action of this spirit—twisting, bending, i.e., perverting, in a negative ethical-religious sense. As discussed in a prior note, lines 12-20 of the Column IV hymn refer to the harmful actions of various “spirits” on human beings. Humans are largely helpless against this influence, unless it is counteracted by other good spirits specifically given by to the individual by God (lines 29ff). Much the same idea is expressed here: the perverting spirit is counteracted by the holy/righteous spirit that God gives to His chosen ones (such as the hymnist/protagonist):

“Only by your goodness can a man be righteous, and by (the) abundance of [your] compas[sion…].
And I, your servant, have knowledge by (the) spirit that you gave [i.e. placed] in me […] and all of your works are righteous” (lines 33b-34a, 35b-36)

The emphasis on the action/effect of this God-given spirit is knowledge (i.e. wisdom and understanding). The protagonist is able to understand the nature of these spirits, and their dynamic (interaction with human beings, etc) in the context of the eternal plans and mysteries of God (see the fragmentary lines 37-40). He says nothing here directly about the cleansing/purifying effect of the spirit, though this is implied in lines 33-34ff. However, in column VI, there is at least one reference to the “spirit of (God’s) holiness” —the principal spirit given to the chosen ones. Indeed, there are parallel references in column VI to the “spirit of holiness” (line 24) and the “spirit of knowledge” (line 36), indicating the important relationship between righteousness/purity and wisdom. This will be discussed further in the next note.

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 5:12-30

1QH 5

(Unless otherwise noted, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

Column V of the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns) manuscript 1QHa, beginning with line 12 (lines 1-11 are lost), contains a relatively lengthy hymn that may extend into column VI. It is clear that this hymn begins at line 12, which means that lines 1-11 likely contained a separate shorter hymn (now lost).

Lines 12-14 form the heading for the hymn, in the manner of the Biblical Psalms; however, this introduction is longer, providing a detailed explanation of the purpose of the hymn. It is intended for the lyk!c=m^ (maskîl), a verbal noun from the root lkc (I), denoting a use of the mind, or manner of thinking, which implies that a person possesses insight and understanding. As a verbal noun, lyk!c=m^ is a participle in the Hiphil (causative) stem, indicating something that makes a person wise, causes them to have knowledge or understanding, etc.

In the Biblical Psalms, lyk!c=m^ refers to a type of poem, which may be set to music (i.e. sung), with a didactic purpose—i.e., used for teaching and instruction. For more on this, cf. the Sunday Psalm study on Ps 32; the term also occurs in Pss 42, 44-45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89, and 142. However, here in the Hodayot, lyk!c=m^ clearly refers to a person—i.e., one acting in a teaching or instructing role, presumably within the religious and organizational structure of the Qumran Community. Translations typical render the word here as a title: “Instructor” or transliterated as “Maskil”.

This person, who will give instruction, first is to “fall down” (vb lp^n`, Hiphil stem) in an attitude of humility and worship before God (line 12). This same wording occurred in the column IV hymn (line 30, cf. the prior note), where it also reflects the attitude and intention of the hymn’s protagonist. This parallel suggests that the lacuna (gap) here in line 12 before the expression “deeds of God” could be a form of the verb rp^s* (“give account of, recount”), as in 4:29. I.e., in an attitude of humble devotion, the protagonist will tell others of God’s righteous and merciful acts; by so doing, he will help those with less learning and wisdom gain in understanding (lines 13-14). In particular, people will come to understand about—

“[…] flesh and (the) counsel of (the) spirits of […] they walk” (line 14b)

The gaps here are intriguing. For the first gap, one is tempted to read “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr), as in lines 15, 30 (and earlier in 4:37, cf. the previous note); the DJD editors (XL, p. 78-9) mention the proposed restoration rcb rxy (“[vessel] formed of flesh”), as in 18:25. The second gap probably indicates a construct expression (“spirits of…”), such as we find frequently with the noun j^Wr in the Qumran texts (especially the Hodayot).

However, the pattern “spirit(s) of…” can be used in reference to both good and evil spirits. As a characteristic of human beings (and the human condition) generally, the phrase almost certainly should be understood in a negative context. In this regard, the restoration hlwu yjwr has been proposed (DJD XL, p. 79); the noun hl*w+u^ (“crookedness, perversity, injustice”) is used elsewhere in the Qumran texts in just such a context, viz., referring to the corrupting spirit(s), “spirit(s) of perversity/injustice”, that influence humankind.

The reference would thus be two-fold: (a) the corrupted human spirit (i.e. ‘spirit of flesh’), and (b) the evil/harmful spirits that influence and direct human beings on a regular basis—their daily life and habitual behavior being indicated by the verb El^h* (in the Hitpael reflexive stem), i.e., “walk about”, as a traditional ethical-religious idiom (cf. the prior note on 4:36).

The hymn proper begins in line 15, with a praise/blessing of God by the protagonist, according to the regular pattern of the Hodayot (cf. 4:21, 29, 38). The broken condition of the beginning of many lines means that this blessing formula often has to be restored (where plausible), as here in line 15. The emphasis in the blessing section is comparable to what we found in the column IV hymn: the protagonist recognizes that God is wholly responsible for giving wisdom and understanding to a chosen individual (here called a lyk!c=m^, cf. above), through His goodness and mercy. The protagonist refers to himself as a “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr), used previously in 4:37 (cf. above); as I discussed in the previous note, the expression refers to the weakness and limitations of the human being’s created nature, but also to the corruption of that nature, so that a person is inclined toward sin and is unable to understand (or receive) the ways of God.

The understanding and insight that God provides to the holy/righteous ones, chosen by Him, is given entirely by His initiative. A strong predestinarian (foreordination) emphasis in this regard is clear from lines 17-18, in spite of their fragmentary condition:

“[…] all insight and in[struction] and the mysteries of the plan and the beginning[…]you established
[…] in holiness from a[ges] of old [and] to everlasting ages you yourself resolved […]holy ones”
(Translation Schuller/Newsom)

This understanding involves the mysteries or “secrets” of God, utilizing the Aramaic loanword zr* (found frequently in the book of Daniel, 2:18 et al). Thus, we are not dealing here with ordinary religious-ethical instruction, but a special kind of inspired teaching. The protagonist, as a maskîl of the Community, claims such special inspiration for himself:

“[…] and in your wonderful mysteries [you] have instructed [me for the s]ake of your glory, and in the depth [… source of] your insight not
[…] you yourself have revealed the ways of truth and the works of evil, wisdom and folly[…] righteousness” (lines 19-20, Schuller/Newsom)

It is important to emphasize again the theological-anthropological principle at work in the column IV and V hymns. The human being, as a limited and corrupted “spirit of flesh”, is unable to obtain the true wisdom and understanding, the knowledge of God; it has to come entirely from God Himself, through an act of mercy and loving-kindness on His part. This Divine wisdom is ancient, going back to the very beginning of creation, contained in mysteries (cf. above) established by God at the beginning of the Ages. The hymnist expresses this belief, grandly, in lines 24-30.

However, it seems that, implied within this song of praise, is the fundamental idea that the ancient/eternal wisdom is conveyed to the holy/chosen one through the spirits that God gives to the person. I suspect that it is these spirits that the author is specifically referring to in lines 24ff:

“And these (are) what [you] es[tablished from (times) before] (in the) distant (past), to judge by them all (the) works of you(r hands), before you created them (together) with (the) army of your spirits and (the) assembly of (the) [mighty (one)s (together) wi]th (the) hammered (sphere) [i.e. firmament] of your holiness and all its armies, (together) with the earth…”

As we shall see as we continue through the Qumran texts, there is a close connection between the principal “spirits” and the fundamental attributes/characteristics of God. Some of those attributes are listed in lines 20-23, and it seems likely that they continue to be primarily in view in the praise section of ll. 24-30. The reference to the “spirit of (God’s) holiness” was already discussed in the previous note (on 4:38).

These principal spirits of God play a central role in the eternal plans (the “mysteries”) of God, through which the creation was established, and all the other heavenly beings (the “army of spirits”) were created. They are then given to the holy ones, those human beings chosen by God, enabling such humans to understand the Divine mysteries. There can be no doubt that the Qumran Community saw itself as possessing a uniquely inspired teaching. It was given to its leaders (like the maskîl-protagonist of the hymn), who then were able to give it, in turn, to the other members.

In the next note, we will proceed to the next section of the column V hymn (lines 30-40), where the protagonist’s identification of himself as a “spirit of flesh” is developed in a different way.

Schuller/Newsom = Eileen M. Schuller and Carol A. Newsom, The Hodayot (Thanksgiving Psalms): A Study Edition of 1QHa, Early Judaism and Its Literature Number 36 (Society of Biblical Literature: 2012)
DJD XL = Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. XL: 1QHodayota, with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f, by Hartmut Stegemann with Eileen Schuller, translations of texts by Carol Newsom (Clarendon Press: 2009).

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 4:37-40

1QHa 4, continued

(Unless otherwise indicated, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

In the remaining lines (37-40) of what survives of the column IV hymn, there occur two key expressions which are most instructive for an understanding of the theology (and anthropology) of the Qumran Community, as expressed particularly in the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot). These parallel, contrastive expressions are:

    • “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr) [line 37]
    • “spirit of holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr) [line 38]

The first of these occurs at the end of the third surviving section (ll. 29-37, discussed in the previous note). The psalmist praises God for His mercy and help, recognizing the need for God Himself to act on his behalf, “…for your servant (is) a spirit of flesh”.

The noun rc*B* (“flesh”), in the Old Testament, serves as a designation for a human being, and for human nature in general. By using the term “flesh”, the emphasis is on the createdness of the human nature, in its weakness and limitation (particularly in its mortality). The term is often specifically used to contrast the human being with God. Indeed, “flesh” is that which distinguishes a created (physical/material) human being from God, who is identified with spirit (see esp. John 4:24). Admittedly, this specific distinction is not made precisely in the Qumran texts; but there can be no doubt of the important contrast between God (and the Divine nature) and human “flesh”.

In line 37, the author/protagonist is particularly emphasizing the weakness and limitation of his human nature, which requires God to act on his behalf, delivering and protecting him from sin and the attacks of harmful “spirits”. But, while the use of the word rc*B* (“flesh”) is fully in keeping with Old Testament usage and tradition, the specific expression “spirit of flesh” is peculiar. Indeed, for readers familiar with the spirit/flesh contrast in the New Testament (especially in Paul’s letters), the expression may seem quite contradictory. How, indeed, can there be a spirit of flesh?

I think that the expression can be understood on several levels. First, there is the basic idea of a person’s material body (“flesh”) being animated by a spirit (or “soul”). In other words, “spirit of flesh” can simply serve as a way of referring to a living human being. Secondly, the “spirit” also reflects an operating mindset (and will) that governs the flesh (i.e., body) of a person. The spirit directs and influences the life and action, thought, etc, of a human being. Thirdly, “flesh”, in the anthropological sense, can connote, not only human weakness and limitation, but can also be used in the more negative sense of a human nature corrupted by sin and evil. This last aspect of meaning comes close to the starkly negative meaning of “flesh” (sa/rc) in the letters of Paul.

Until recent decades, there were many attempts by scholars to ascertain the origin and background of Paul’s distinctive use of the term “flesh”. Parallels in contemporary Judaism were difficult to find—that is, until the discovery, reconstruction and publication of the Qumran scrolls. In a number of those texts, including here in the Hodayot, we find a negative anthropological use of the term “flesh” (Heb. rc*B*) that resembles Paul’s usage in a number of ways. This will be discussed further as we continue through these notes.

In the context of the 1QHa column IV hymn, the contrast to the expression “spirit of flesh” is found at the beginning of the next (fourth) section (lines 38-40f). As mentioned in the previous note, sections 2 and 3 (ll. 21-28, 29-37) each begin with a praise/blessing of God, praising Him for what He has given to the hymnist/protagonist. In line 29, specific mention is made of the “spirits” God has given to (i.e., placed “in”) him. These spirits are apparently the means by which God guides and protects the person. The wording in line 38 is parallel, both in form and meaning:

“[Blessed (are) you, God Most High, that] you have sprinkled (the) spirit of your holiness over your servant, [and have] purified (the) […] of his heart”

The verb form htwpynh can be derived either from [Wn I (“wave, shake”) or [Wn II (“sprinkle”); I have opted for the latter (cp. Schuller/Newsom, p. 19; DJD XL, p. 74). On possible restorations for the lacuna in line 38, cf. DJD XL, p. 72).

If various “spirits” have been placed within in the hymnist, as a representative of the faithful/righteous Community, then also the spirit of God’s holiness has also been “sprinkled” over him. The expression vd#q) j^Wr is sometimes translated “holy spirit”, but this can be misleading (particularly for Christian readers); a proper rendering is “spirit of holiness” (cf. Romans 1:4). This pattern of expression (“spirit of…”) occurs frequently in a number of the Qumran texts, as we shall see. The particular construct genitival pattern likely was influenced by Old Testament usage—particularly the sequence in Isaiah 11:2.

There are many such spirits that come from God (cf. above on line 29), however the spirit of holiness (vd#q)) is especially associated with God Himself, reflecting the important Divine attribute/characteristic of holiness (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; 77:13; 78:41; 99:3ff, 9; Isa 1:4; 6:3, etc). Even so, the specific expression “spirit of holiness” is quite rare in the Scriptures, occurring only in Psalm 51:13[11] (“spirit of your holiness”) and Isa 63:10-11 (“spirit of His holiness”); cf. also Daniel 4:8-9, 18; 5:11. The expression here in line 38 essentially matches that in Psalm 51:13: “(the) spirit of your holiness” (;v=d=oq j^Wr), i.e., “your holy spirit”.

The faithful/loyal Israelite (that is, member of the Community) is made holy by the spirit of God’s own holiness—the chief of the “spirits” that are given to the individual. This enables the human being, with his/her corrupted “spirit of flesh” (cf. above), to remain pure (i.e. holy) and faithful to the covenant (lines 39-40). The “spirit of flesh” is restored to purity, so that the human spirit is now able to receive knowledge and insight from God, and to follow the Instruction (Torah) without stumbling. The author of the hymn, as an exemplar for the Qumran Community, represents all the Community members. Just as he is made holy by God’s holy spirit, so are all those who join the Community. The spirit of holiness is given to the member—an event and dynamic that is symbolized in the ritual of the Community (to be discussed esp. in the upcoming notes on the Community Rule documents).

The column IV hymn apparently ended with line 41, since the remainder of the column (at the bottom of the page leaf) was left uninscribed (see the information given in DJD XL, pp. 77-8). A new hymn must have begun at the top of the next leaf (column V); however, lines 1-11 of column V are lost, with another hymn beginning at line 12. The short hymn at the beginning of column V presumably ended on line 10 or 11.

In the next note, we will begin looking at the hymn in column V, which may extend (partway) through column VI. There are important spirit-references in this hymn which will allow us to build upon our notes thus far. In particular, the expression “spirit of flesh” is repeated (cf. above), as is the idea of God giving a holy/righteous spirit to the author (protagonist) of the hymn.

Schuller/Newsom = Eileen M. Schuller and Carol A. Newsom, The Hodayot (Thanksgiving Psalms): A Study Edition of 1QHa, Early Judaism and Its Literature Number 36 (Society of Biblical Literature: 2012)
DJD XL = Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. XL: 1QHodayota, with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f, by Hartmut Stegemann with Eileen Schuller, translations of texts by Carol Newsom (Clarendon Press: 2009).